Mostly offline

I’ve moved house, and the new one won’t be connected to the internets until Thursday.

So I won’t be doing much until then!

Normal service resumed next week though.

Back to school

OUI’ve just registered to do some proper studying – for the first time since I left university in 2001.

It’s through the Open University, and the qualification is a BSc (Honours) Technology. I’m entirely self taught when it comes to anything computer related, and while that’s fine, I’ve felt for a while that something a little more structured and formal would be useful. I chose this particular course because I know I am no computer scientist, nor anything other than a hobbyist when it comes to actual programming. Hopefully this course will let me focus on strategy and understanding some of the big issues.

I’m also quite interested in how the Open University uses e-learning and the web to support the community of learners on a course.

My first module starts in February next year, so plenty of time to regret my decision – or possibly prepare – and it’s called Networked living: exploring information and communication technologies. Hopefully it will be a fairly gentle start!

Once my work on the course starts, I’ll be sure to share things I learn here on the blog!

What I do

DB business cardMy role at Learning Pool is a hard one to define exactly. A couple of weeks ago, we had a big company meeting where everyone got together to discuss the last year’s efforts, and what we want to achieve in 10/11.

At one point Paul asked everyone in the room to raise their hands if they knew what I did for the company. I don’t think anyone raised their hands. I know I didn’t.

That’s ok, though, and I stood up and rather incoherently tried to explain it all. I don’t think I did a great job, but I do think I managed to get across that it isn’t just about going to conferences.

My job title is Community Evangelist, and the first thing to say is that I’m not a Technology Evangelist. The role of technology evangelist is a pretty well established one in the techie sphere, pioneered by Guy Kawasaki at Apple in the 80s. Robert Scoble fulfilled a similar role for Microsoft in the mid-noughties.

This is important, because I’m a newcomer to Learning Pool’s core technology, based on Moodle, and would probably be a pretty terrible evangelist for it. Not only that, but my actual technical knowledge is sketchy at best, and I’m as good an example as any that a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Instead of technology, my focus is people – as individuals, members of communities of practice or interest, and organisations. My aim is to promote the behaviour and culture of the internet: collaboration, openness, generosity, curiosity.

So what do I actually do?

  • Well, I do go to conferences. I speak at them, sit and listen at them, wander around chatting to people at them. I collect business cards, I give out my own. I enthuse about the wonders of the internet and what it can do for people and organisations.
  • I also turn up at organisations, like Councils – occasionally invited – to talk to groups of people, whether management teams or whole departments about the work we do and why it’s important
  • I manage communities. This will be really important once the new LP website is launched, which will be full of online networking goodness. Encouraging participation, getting more people to join, providing real value for both members and for the company.
  • I convene. One of the things Learning Pool effectively invested in when they recruited me was my network: as a result of the past 5 years I’ve spent writing this blog, whoring myself on Facebook and Twitter and attempting to be as helpful as possible, I’ve built up a group of people who find knowing me occasionally useful. I introduce people who may not have otherwise known one another, and hope that interesting things happen as a result.
  • I curate. I spend a lot of time following hundreds of blogs and Twitter streams, picking out the best bits and distributing links to them via Twitter, Delicious, Google Reader, and of course this blog. As I like to say, I find this stuff so you don’t have to.
  • Of the stuff I read, a lot comes from sectors other than the public, and so I spend time thinking how emergent technology and ideas can be applied to public services. I guess I just put stuff into context. It isn’t that hard, and the joy of it is that I don’t need to have too many original thoughts of my own.
  • I write longer pieces than blog posts, like the Twitter guide – and I have some more of these planned. Hopefully they are useful for those that download and read them, and they promote LP as a helpful company who know more or less what they are talking about
  • I have ideas. 99% of them are stupid and never go anywhere. The other 1% are stupid but get made less stupid by someone else, and may end up actually happening.
  • I get wind of potentially interesting projects for Learning Pool to be involved with, which are often way outside the usual day to day business of the company. I do my best to win the work, and after completing it, we decide whether it is an activity that could be ‘productised’ and marketed as a service we could offer more widely.
  • Finally, I share stuff. Pretty much everything I ever think gets written up and published, whether here or on Twitter. I also try to share the interesting stories I come across in local government, finding the pockets of great innovation that are going on and making more people aware of it, so everyone benefits. My recent interview with Mark Lloyd is an example of that. I’m always looking for more.

So that’s a brief run through of what I do. In practice, I spend a lot of time reading, mainly off the screen and mainly within Google Reader, and a lot of time out and about meeting people. There are worse ways of making a living.

Full time at the Pool

Learning Pool

2010 sees the start of a new adventure for me, as I leave the world of freelancing behind and start full time with Learning Pool – who I have been working for on a part time basis for the last six months of 2009.

I’m delighted for a number of reasons. One is the opportunity to help an established company move in new directions – more on that in a bit. Being part of something bigger is also going to really make a difference to the way I work – I’m going to have the backing of a big team of people: developers, designers, a customer support team, people who can actually manage projects properly. Anyone that knows me will appreciate what a positive thing this is!

The other key thing that Learning Pool offered me was a great working relationship with a huge number of local authorities in the UK who already have a Learning Pool product or service. My background and interest has always been more in local government and I am really excited to getting to grips with the issues facing the sector and coming up with some interesting solutions.

In terms of what it is that I am actually going to be doing, well, it’s going to pretty much be an extension of what I have been working on for the last 18 months; and indeed what I have been writing about for longer than that. Learning Pool has a great reputation at providing collaborative and social learning technology and I think there is more to be done to help councils, and other public sector organisations to become true learning organisations.

This means making use of technology like eLearning, but also the wider use of web 2.0 within the organisation – stuff like I mentioned here. There’s a lot in this, I think, mixing up culture change with innovation and knowledge management. I’m developing a model which tries to put it into some kind of context for public services, identifying:

  • Drivers: efficiency and improvement
  • Enablers: innovation and collaboration
  • Domains: culture and technology

The drivers explain what the high level thing is that needs to be achieved: in other words, doing better with less. The enablers are the things that will help this happen: a proper way of encouraging and managing innovation in the organisation, and to encourage and adopt more collaborative behaviour. The domains are where this stuff happens: getting tech that works is important, but more so is culture – both of these things must be right to ensure those enablers happen effectively.

So this isn’t (just) about tools. I’m as interested in how you can get organisations working collaboratively and innovatively as much as I am in deploying wikis or installing WordPress. In fact, I’m most interested in combining the two – here’s the tools, and here’s how to get people using them. Or, to try and put it yet another way: blogs and wikis and all that stuff is very nice, but what does it mean to a service manager?

Anyway, there is plenty more thinking to be done. I’ll still be blogging it all here at DavePress the blog, even if DavePress the business is no longer around. If you want to chat about any of this stuff and how I, and Learning Pool, can help – you know where I am.

Dave @ Learning Pool

Learning Pool

I am rather pleased to be able to let everyone know that I’m starting work for Learning Pool this month.

For those that don’t know, Learning Pool provide e-learning services to the public sector, with a focus on local government. Subscribers to the service get access to a whole library of e-learning materials, and can also buy a system known as a dynamic learning environment to run their training on.

But it’s more interesting than that, because the notion of community is at the heart of what Learning Pool do. So, any training designed and developed by a subcriber to the service can be uploaded to the pool for any other members to use, edit and reshare. Awesome!

What’s more, Learning Pool have also started to use their experience of this kind of collaborative working to great effect in building knowledge sharing networks, with one particularly successful one running in the south-east of England with several councils involved.

I’m going to be helping Learning Pool in a number of ways:

  1. Developing a thriving online community for e-learning at, for anyone with an interest, whether a customer or not, to chat with like minded folk about e-learning and related issues
  2. Making the most of the various social media channels to enable Learning Pool’s messages to be disseminated in a conversational style
  3. Developing some e-learning for the public sector on social media: the background, the tools and their application
  4. Special projects – where councils or other organisations need some help on a social media type project, I and the Learning Pool crew can offer a great mix of enthusiasm, inspiration and innovation as well as organisation and reliability

It’s going to be a blast. If you want to know any more, just drop me an email.

Snow business

The snow has made it a tricky week this week, with transport problems and the local school being closed. What’s more, just outside Cambridge, the snow is still falling on DavePress Towers.

It’s quite pretty, mind.

It’s hasn’t all been bad news, though. As Tom Watson reports, the confusion around the schools closures spurred DirectGov’s innovation dudes into swift action. Whilst the site is down right now for maintenence, this type of proof-of-concept prototyping is just what government needs to test what works and what doesn’t before project managers and the like get their claws into things.

Another remarkable outcome of the weather was the use of the #uksnow hashtag and snow level rating system which spread on twitter. Paul Clarke tells the story:

Fresh from yesterday’s UK Government Web BarCamp, #ukgc09 (worth looking at, my mind was pretty open to data sets and what could be done with them. Except the contents of #uksnow wasn’t data – at least nothing that could be readily useable.

Time for a suggestion on standards. I’d put my own tweet out about weather conditions in RH1, so quickly came up with a format: #uksnow [1st part of postcode] [n/10]; as a simple way of getting the holy trinity of mashable data together. Place, condition and time (from Twitter’s own logging). Bingo – three things that could readily be parsed by someone with the time and inclination to do so. And then analysed, mapped, mashed, shared, whatever…

What’s really interesting is the way that Twitter is starting to be used effectively as a command line. People seem to have no problem typing data in conforming to a form of markup so that their contributions can be parsed and mashed up.

Dave @ BCS

 British Computer Society

I’m going to be talking to the good folk at the Central London branch of the British Computer Society this Thursday, on the topic of The Search for Shared Meaning: How Social Media Changes Everything:

Blogs, online video, photo sharing and social networking are redefining the way that people interact with each other and with organisations. Understanding the implications of this is vital for any organisation which wishes to remain relevant in a Web 2.0 world. Dave will discuss how organisations can approach these new tools, and how such an approach should relate to existing strategies and communication plans.

Weighty stuff, I hope I don’t disappoint!

It all kicks off at 6pm at the BCS HQ on Southampton Street in London.

Hope to see some DavePress regulars there – and for those that won’t be, I hope there will be a twitter back channel to keep folk at home informed on just how badly I’m doing. How about #davebcs for a tag?

Best of DavePress 2008

Here are the posts in decreasing order of popularity that seem to have caught people’s attention in the last 12 months:

  1. The UKGovWeb Twitterverse
  2. widget guide
  3. 10 Cool WordPress themes
  4. 8 tips for beginner bloggers
  5. Macbook Wireless Problem
  6. Effective collaboration with wikis
  7. What is a ‘Digital Mentor’?
  8. ReadWriteGov
  9. Digital mentor update
  10. The different types of blog post

What a year!

There’s not long left of 2008 now. It’s been one of the most remarkable years of my life.

I started it living in Mawsley, near Kettering, which I and my family hated. We then moved to Broughton, also near Kettering, which was better. Now I’m typing this in the study in our house in Cottenham, near Cambridge. I’ve always wanted to return to living round here, yet never thought I would manage it. I love it here.

I started the year in a proper job, which I was starting to find limiting and restrictive. At that time, I didn’t know where else I could go. Over the year I got the confidence to realise that working for myself was what I needed to do. Thanks to the tremendous support I have received from several people – many of whom I have only really known since relatively recently – I’ve been able to find myself a bit of a niche and off the back of that, plenty of work.

So, (deep breath) massive thanks to Steve Dale, Jeremy Gould, David Wilcox, Simon Dickson, Steph Gray, Shane McCracken, Nick Booth, Dom Campbell, Lloyd Davis, Tim Davies, Emma Mulqueeny, Paul Johnston and many others… I literally couldn’t have done it without you.

A quick word about Jeremy – he posted today on his blog that he is leaving the civil service, to take some time off with his family and to return some time in 2009 in some capacity as a freelancer. His blog post hints at frustration in his day job and I think he must have felt pretty under appreciated there during the last months. I don’t think this does his department any credit at all and it is a pretty damning indictment that one of the most passionate and able people I have ever met was unable to find a role that suited him and his talents within the UK public sector. He’ll do very well out of the system, of that I have no doubt, but what a shame! If civil servants with a bit of vision and enthusiasm continue to be treated like this, there will be no good ones left. Simon has blogged his thoughts too.

Apart from my terrific friends, there is one other thing that has had a remarkable impact on my workloads, and that is this blog. During the whole of December 2007, DavePress got a measly 67 hits. December 2008 saw it receive 5,328 views. I think it is fair to say that every single bit of work I have picked up has started with a conversation beginning with, “Hi Dave, I’ve just been reading your blog and…”. Here’s some advice for anyone who might be thinking about going it alone at some point in 2009 – start blogging. It’s a remarkable way to build yourself a reputation from scratch.

I’m hoping that I stay busy in 2009, obviously, and that I start to develop a bit more of a business brain than I currently have. I want, as I think I mentioned in my ‘resolutions’ post, that I want to find the time to think a bit more about how all this digital participation stuff actually works, and what it really means for the government of this country. I’m not so sure than government is going to be ‘fixed’ any time soon, but the tinkering around the edges that’s starting to happen now can only help improve things a little bit for a lot of people.

Happy new year, everyone.